Travelers- Ranged from 6 months to 60 years. Yes! It was an odd mix of the young and old comprising total of six of us.
Spouse – age 34 years
Me- age 30 years
Baby- age 6mths
MiL- age 60 years
nephew – Age -11years
niece- Age- 9 years
Well that was our group of self acclaimed adventure seekers for the road trip .
Route– We were to start from Delhi – to Narkanda bypassing Shimla-through Dhalli to Rampur, then Sarahan– Kinnaur comprising of Rekong Peo,Kalpa and Chitkool- Finally up up away to Kaza, Spiti
Total Distance– From Delhi To Kaza- 791 kms.
Time – We had planned just 5 nights to complete the whole tour. Yes, it was a tough challenge. With such a mad rush , it was only obvious that it would be a mind blowing and memorable adventure.
Vehicle – Santro Xing 2004 model – with a ground clearance of 164 mm
Purpose– With such an odd mix of characters, the purposes definitely differed from one individual to another, but one thing was common and that was we were raring to go in spite of some travel advisories against it for bad roads,landslides,high altitude and mountain sickness to name a few. But let me list out the purposes as it might make an interesting read
Mine- A well deserving break from the daily humdrum of a busy life and oneness with nature.
Spouse’s- He wanted a tough drive which would test his stamina, skill and endurance as a driver and also had a deep desire since long to capture the stark and bare landscape of Spiti both in his mind and camera.
Baby- Well I didn’t exactly ask my six month old kid, but I can guess that she might have tagged along just to be with me, nestled in my arms and cooing in comfort.
MiL- To go places literally and to rekindle again her sense of adventure and soak in the essence of new places.
Nephew- sole purpose to escape studies and a nagging mom.
Neice- She wanted to worship the ground (literally)where John Abraham had walked upon for the shooting of the movie Paap.
Pre travel preparation- It was no great secret that the road we were to traverse was one of the toughest in India. So we had taken extra precautions for our this particular trip.
-The car was serviced one week prior to travelling. We bought some new tubes for the tyres but ended up also purchasing new sturdy tyres too and a gallon of petrol because there were no petrol pumps between Powari in Kinnaur and Kaza, Spiti.
– Of course there was the regular shopping for appropriate clothing, music compilation and stocking up of non perishable food items and medicines.Yes lots of mars bars and cup o noodles.
-There was the obvious cyber raiding of information related to Spiti and huge amount of printouts.
As we set off we felt pleased with our preparation and over all victorious even before we had set out.
So 6 days,5 nights, 790.km of a hard drive. One driver. Could we manage it?
I was in a dilemma on whether to write a trip report in prosaic way. No No I won’t be that different and do it in verses either, but I thought why not put it up in point wise way rather than being dully prosaic?
So here I go-
Day 0- Day 1-Journey started at – 3am
Target– Breakfast at (not Tiffany’s ) Chandigarh. Lunch in Narkanda and Night stay in Rekong Peo.
Targets Achieved or not? Targets achieved till Narkanda. But beyond Narkanda we lost our speed because of the magnificent landscapes and simply irresistible scenic drive that the road provided along the banks of Sutlej. There was less of driving and more of clicking. Finally we had to stop at Sarahan which was just 40 Km from Rampur a bit high up , but none the less another amazingly beautiful place.
Things we liked– The scenery,The drive. The early morning drive at 3 am in the Delhi Ambala highway with not much traffic and lovely music in the background. It seemed magical to the point of being Bollywoodish.
High Points-The Bar at HPTDC hotel in Sarahan, where I and and the husband managed to go , by sneaking out from our room and family, to have- he- a peg of whiskey and me- my chicken fry.
-The thrilling drive up to Sarahan , as the road was interrupted at places with mountain streams and gravel.
-The romantic walk at 11 pm outside our hotel in the chilly and misty night.
Things we did not like– Nothing really. We were having loads of fun. We didn’t even mind that we were way behind our schedule. It was never logical enough to be followed to the T.
So that was the end of Day 1.
Day 2- Journey started late- 11 am. Reason- visit to the Bhimakali Mandir which is a shakti pith and the USP of Sarahan.
Targets- To explore Sangla Valley-Chitkool, Rekong Peo and Kalpa. Stopover for the night- either in Kalpa or Rekong Peo.
Targets achieved?– Targets Achieved though in a hurried way.
Things we liked– Everything. We had heard a lot about the beautiful Sangla valley which fell en route to Chitkool., but we found Chitkool more beautiful than Sangla. Especially the drive up. The road was narrow and rocky at places which required extreme concentration but the Santro-Hubby duo did absolutely fine. One has to be there physically to experience the real beauty of snowy mountainside covered with the pine and fir trees. The high peaks formed the perfect backdrop to the near by mountains.
-The Bhimakali Temple- I am not much of a religious person. I do believe in God but I don’t complicate it with prayers and other fancy stuff. But here in this temple , which was a simple wooden architecture (well at least I felt it was simple), the calm atmosphere with the perfect awe inspiring back drop simply made me feel uplifted and one with God.
Rekong Peo was a town at a lower altitude and after a cursory glance and a drive, we like true snobs, decided to give it a pass and instead drove on to Kalpa which was a right decision though. Kalpa was another beautiful town , virgin and still unspoilt by the tourist crowd.
Things we did not like– The limited menu in the Dhabas. It was rice and black dal in Indian and maggi, thukpa and momos in Chinese all the way. After the initial elation of unlimited noodles and momos, one started to feel the absence of a proper north Indian fare.
-A blanket in our hotel room in Sarahan was detected with a burn and we were asked to pay up. Both the kids and the spouse denied innocently of any involvement but I suspect his handiwork( he is no less a kid in certain matters), and so we had to cough up Rs 500 for a blanket with a hole.
-Sangla was a slight disappointment as we had expected something very magical, very enchanting, but it paled compared to Chitkool.
High Points– Just before the fork in the highway for Sangla and Chitkool, we decided to stop for lunch at a roadside dhaba, which was slightly on higher ground. We made so much noise and fuss just to help ma in law up there that quite a crowd assembled just to have a look at what we (mad bunch of people) were up to.
-Stopping en route to Chitkool suddenly on a whim at a rocky but grassy patch of land near a brook, with fresh snow on the open space ahead a little further. The kids along with the man had a fun time,there building a snow man and playing in the snow.
-Chitkool is a frontier village and more a cantonment. We had the pleasure of having tea in the last tea stall before China ( as it had advertised itself) and an army man pointed somewhere vaguely as the Indo china border.
Finally Day 2 ended after we checked in Hotel Kinnaur Kailash in Kalpa which had some amazing duplex cottages.
Day – 3- Day three began with a glorious sunrise and the magnificent view of the Kinnaur Kailash peak.
Journey started at– Early at 8am. After all the toughest leg of the journey was about to start.
Targets– To Reach Kaza by evening. Short halts at Nako lake and Tabo for refreshment and sight seeing.
Target not achieved– Could not make it to Kaza. .. Reason? Read on further for the highest and most adventurous part of our Journey.
Things we liked–
Spouse- He was in love with all the wrong things (including me)-
The bad ghastly roads.
- The high, very high barren sandy, gravelly unwelcome mountains with not even a streak of vegetation anywhere
- The extremely unpredictable yet windy weather conditions
All these seemed to pump adrenaline into his system by gallons.
–Me , Neice, Nephew, MiL- The cloud formations, the awe inspiring mountains, dizzying heights.
–Baby– She loved the most dreaded and dangerous stretch of the road- The notorious Maaling Nallah. The road was very narrow at this stretch and very muddy and slippery too. One slip – and off you would go hurtling down the mountains. Two vehicles could not cross it simultaneously and the bends were the only part where one could cross each other . So if two vehicles did come face to face here, one would have to back inadvertently. The baby loved this stretch because of the rocking, jumping and swaying motion of the vehicle,but I had almost gone green here)
Things we didn’t like- Now comes the adventurous part.
-After just a few kilometers, we suffered the first setback. There was a landslide a little further up and so we had to wait for the road to be cleared. It took an hour to be cleared. From then on everything looked desolate and barren.The grey mountains, terrible roads at Khab which almost made us spin at times, the lack of proper food (only rice and black dal) … But still we were enjoying the sights when…
-The second setback occurred- At a bend , the car jumped at a speed breaker and then snap went something. There was this weird sound and then the hubby started fidgeting with the gears. His face paled to a ghastly yellow. The gear box had snapped and only the first , third and fifth gear were working. The rest of the gears including the reverse gear were not working. In that wilderness we were literally doomed. Kaza was more than 100 km away and the nearby village where we hoped to find a mechanic was around twenty kms away and even it was no guarantee that he could fix it. Some of the few people we met on the way said that we might have to tow the vehicle back to Shimla much to our dismay. Stranded at over 11000 feet altitude , in the wilderness, with a kid of six months, a mother and two kids who were sent with great trust, you can imagine how sinking the feeling was!Despair wrote large on our face and I started hating the very sights that I had fallen in love with few moments back. We some how managed to move along to Yangthang where we found the mechanic, who at first glance put up his hands and asked us to take the car to Shimla some how or get the spare from there. It was afternoon, then. God! There was no place to stay in the wilderness either. In Spiti you either have towns or settlements and Yangthang was one such settlement which had simply no facility for wayfarers. But all of us pestered him to set it right some how. Maybe the sorry faces of the kids did the trick. He wired the gear box together some how to make the journey ahead possible and we carried onwards…
-But that wasn’t the end of our troubles. After proceeding a little further from Nako, the weather became cloudy and a storm seemed to be brewing in the near horizon. A tight spot we were in. We hadn’t even reached Spiti by then and were still in Kinnaur. We couldn’t pick up the speed as the road was dangerous and the car was broken. If the storm caught up then we would be really stuck . The nearest town where we could hope to find shelter was Tabo which was around 60 km up. One of the option was to turn back defeated to Nako and terminate the journey there. Being true adventurist we continued onwards. Finally we reached Sumdo , the first point of Spiti. Yes! finally we were upon the soil of Spiti. ( I could kiss it) and it also had a guest house. One of the option was to terminate the journey there as now we were officially on Spiti soil, but again, the thirst wasn’t satisfied so we still continued. By then the rain had started pouring along with the wind. It was dangerous as the mountains were sandy and gravelly and might have shifted any moment causing a landslide. In fact some sands grains and pebbles did come flying down upon the car at points,but some how we managed to reach Tabo which was the second biggest town in Spiti. It was a defeat but not much bad.as we had consolation of being in Tabo. But it was very risky to proceed further so we finally halted in Tabo.
High Points– When the mechanic finally took pity on us to fix the problem of our gear box.
-At the Sumdo guest house , when we had asked how much the guest house would cost us for the night, the care taker was willing to take us for as guests, for only Rs 200 for the whole house which comprised of a Two bedrooms, a living room , a dining room and attached bathroom. But amazingly he refused point blank to share the potatoes he had stashed away, with us in spite of offering him a handsome amount for it You see we were tired of having rice and black dal.
Day 3 was done by the grace of God!
Day 4- We were in two minds on whether to proceed on to Kaza or turn back but some locals predicted a nasty storm arriving by evening which made us pack our bags and run for our lives.Enough of being stranded at wrong places!
Journey started at 9 am.
Targets– Reaching Kalpa or beyond, if time permitted by night fall.
Target Achieved!. We stopped again at Sarahan.
Things we liked- We experienced the first snow fall of our lives in Nako lake where we halted for refreshment.
-The monastery at Tabo was another place that we liked.serene and calm .
-Reaching Sarahaan safely felt like being successful in a big enterprise.
Things we didn’t- The day was comparatively easier for us. The road seemed less tedious.
My family didn’t like the fact that I played spoilsport rushing ourselves off fast from the Snowfall, but I was afraid that we might be stranded again in the thick snow.
-At Akpa near Kalpa we were again stuck in a road block which was opened after around two hours .
High Point- of course the Snowfall at Nako. It was our first experience of a snowfall. A pity, we had to run away so soon.
-As at Akpa we had nothing better to do, so just carried on driving aimlessly at nearby areas on any new road and paths branching out into peaceful hamlets.It was really awesome to drive off the beaten track.
So Day four too passed on peacefully.
We were now beginning to have the blues – a symptom of the aftermath and simply were not ready to reach Delhi so soon.
Journey started at 10am.
Target– To some how delaying reaching Delhi.
Target achieved– we stopped at Barog again that night, just a few kilometers after Shimla.
Things we liked- The mountains and the scenery.
Things we didn’t– That we were going back.
High Point– Finally delayed reaching Delhi by another day and night.
Day 5 finally ended uneventfully.